Earlier today I was once again asked to wrap a neat definition around social media. It seems increasingly hard to do this without sounding like a bit of a tool.

I said something along the lines of: It’s about participation, which can happen on your site and elsewhere. It boosts engagement and as such you must learn to love it.

Thankfully I avoided phrases like ‘new paradigm’ and ‘leveraging user-generated synergies’, but still, I wasn’t entirely happy with my framework. I didn’t talk about media, as such, nor the types of media, but distilled it into interaction and engagement. I’m not sure that’s much of a definition, for the average journalist or newcomer.

I want a stickier, more memorable definition. So I looked it up, and asked the question to our Twitter followers to see what came back at me.


You may have noticed things have moved on in social media since this article was written. Luckily, Econsultancy still offers the most up-to-date social media training and a Social Media Best Practice Guide.

Social media defined

“Social media are primarily Internet-based tools for sharing and discussing information among human beings.” – Wikipedia

“A category of sites that is based on user participation and user-generated content. They include social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, or My Space, social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us, social news sites like Digg or Simpy, and other sites that are centered on user interaction.” – Lazworld

“Online technologies and practices that people use to share opinions, insights, experiences, and perspectives with each other.” – tvb.org

“Social media are works of user-created video, audio, text or multimedia that are published and shared in a social environment, such as a blog, wiki or video hosting site.” – Capilanou

“An umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words and pictures.” – Anvil Media

“Software tools that allow groups to generate content and engage in peer-to-peer conversations and exchange of content (examples are YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, MySpace etc).” – Bottle PR

“Social Media is the collection of tools and online spaces available to help individuals and businesses to accelerate their information and communication needs.” – Axel Schultze

Other useful pointers

iCrossing’s e-book (PDF) on social media neatly captures the five key elements of social media: participation, openness, conversation, community, connectedness.

Social media overlord Robert Scoble has previously described it thus: “When I say ‘social media’ or “new media” I’m talking about Internet media that has the ability to interact with it in some way.”

Marta Kagan’s excellent ‘What The F**K is Social Media’ slideshow has a pretty good definition: “Social media is an umbrella term that defines the various activities that integrate technology, social interaction, and the construction of words, pictures, videos and audio.”

Six basics of planning a paid social campaign 

The Twittersphere speaketh!

In addition to the above I thought it would be a good idea to ask our glorious Twitter followers the question: “What is social media?” (in 140 characters or less). Our thanks to all who took part.

Here’s what they defined it as…

  1. Social media is like going to a large party. Put on your best outfit, try to be entertaining, don’t put own foot in mouth – @srufo
  2. Social Media = Sharing Caring Conversations Online – @ActiveLife
  3. A place to hang out and communicate with your own networks of contacts, friends and peers about stuff that interests you – @rumbels
  4. Social Media = The facilitation and practice of engagement and conversation online – @rosiefresh
  5. People. Technology. Communication. Ideas. Choice. – @EngineCreative
  6. It’s new groups of online media which share things like openness, ‘connectedness’ participation, conversation and community – @KateBiz
  7. Definition of social media: Media that allows discussion and interaction, as opposed to broadcast only. – @leifkendall
  8. My definition of social media ‘the Internet’s original purpose-not a new phenomena’ but there are other forms of ‘offline’ SM – @greenwellys
  9. Talking online with people you don’t know in the hope that they’ll become customers! – @supanovatrainer
  10. A set of websites that allows users to directly interact with each other – @Nenad
  11. The definition of social media du jour is, simply, ‘140 characters or less’ – @oliverpayne
  12. This year’s equivalent of WAP portals – @mattycurry
  13. A place where people go connect with other people. I guess the ‘love’ column in London Paper could even be a social media. It isn’t limited to online media – @matthewgain
  14. No holds barred informal networking and content sharing – @thefloatingfrog
  15. Internet tools developed and defined in part by the people who use them and that connect those people in some way – @talance
  16. SM is a open platform, free form, uncensored conversation between millions of people worldwide without borders. – @catlowmusic
  17. Our web tomorrow, today – @rafiq
  18. Something non-institutional involving a level discursive playing field…or something like that – @alasdairt
  19. Social media is getting a msg across in as few words as possible, in as little time as possible, to as many people as possible – @KateHorstead
  20. Engage, share, spread, cooperate, interact, learn, enjoy – @fredchannel
  21. An online communication community where networks formed by the members shape the flow and formation of the content? – @justingould
  22. Social Media is how Internet changed social networking by using all the different web tools to communicate socially. – @tornow
  23. It is a thing of opposites; compelling and annoying, time wasting and time efficient, useful and useless. – @nettya

That’s about 34 definitions to choose from. Not sure if that helps or hinders, but take yer pick, or add your own below.

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